Wyatt Earp: “My Darling Clementine” verus “Gunfight at the O.K. Coral”

The real Wyatt Earp, subject of countless films

Old Hat. New Hat.

Remakes are often cited as a recent phenomena, but it has been going for the entirety of cinema. Sure there are plenty of times where it hasn’t worked but what about film noir classic The Big Sleep? Not only was it a re-make, but it was even remade again. Double Indemnity was re-made as Body Heat. And Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been remade countless times (the most recent one wasn’t so good, though). If you say that no-one can ever make remakes, and the orginal should always be the definitive version, then that doesn’t bode too well for the ‘bard. Sorry Shakespeare, no-one wants to produce your work anymore!

So how about westerns? Recently a student of mine got my western education going with the classic Shane, and two more films, My Darlin’ Clementine and Gunfight at the O.K. Coral. Both films tell the story of Wyatt Earp, and his legendary gun-fight at the O.K. Coral. Both films have superstar directors and actors, although only one had a theme song that has stood the test of time.

My Darling Clementine (1946)

From IMDB: Wyatt Earp and his brothers Morgan and Virgil ride into Tombstone and leave brother James in charge of their cattle herd. On their return they find their cattle stolen and James dead. Wyatt takes on the job of town marshal, making his brothers deputies, and vows to stay in Tombstone until James’ killers are found. He soon runs into the brooding, coughing, hard-drinking Doc Holliday as well as the sullen and vicious Clanton clan. Wyatt discovers the owner of a trinket stolen from James’ dead body and the stage is set for the Earps’ long-awaited revenge.

My Verdict: Not a great deal happens in My Darling Clementine, yet at the same time, so much happens. The action is like a hot and humid summers day, slow and fiery. It’s quite an emotional film, and despite the age of the film, it stands up today. The passion between the leads is incredible. It would be remise of me to give away any spoilers, so I’m afraid you’ll either have to take my word for it, or watch the film yourself, when I say that it is braver than most of todays films are. This is not a film that today’s marketers would approve of, it is dangerous, sultry and emotional.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)

From IMDB: After the long career of lawman that made him a legend, Wyatt Earp deciedes to quit and join his brothers in Tombstone, Arizona. There he would see them in feud with Clantons, local clan of thugs and cattle thieves. When the showdown becomes inevitable, the help will come from Doc Holliday, terminally-ill gambler who happens to be another Wild West legend.

My Verdict: Unlike My Darling Clementine, the editing is fast and a lot happens in this film. It is almost like television in the way it grabs you by the throat from the opening credits to the finish. Yet the film feels slower than My Darling Clementine, less dangerous somehow. The film takes a very prudish stance on the characters sexuality in comparison, yet it is a much more violently graphic film. In all the action, it sacrifices character development. You never really find out why Wyatt Earp came to Tombstone, he’s already there when the movie starts. Because we don’t really know who they are, when the action starts it’s very difficult to feel anything for the characters. There is no emotional investment. So the thrill of watching someone we are “rooting for” in danger, isn’t really present in this version. Once again the most interesting storyline is the way that Doc. Holiday goes from being enemies with Earp to the point where they fight together in the infamous battle. That wasn’t sacrificed.

Conclusion: Both films are classics, and quite rightly so. But for me, my money is on My Darling Clementine, the more dangerous and emotionally engaging of the two. One more thing that My Darling Clementine has over Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is the memorable theme song. Which is still known today.


7 thoughts on “Wyatt Earp: “My Darling Clementine” verus “Gunfight at the O.K. Coral”

Add yours

  1. I didn’t realize this was your blog at first! It has a different look and your writing tone is very different from previous entries. I can see an evolution in your blogging. Cool!

    That said, my knowledge of Earp is limited. If you’re interested in a fun movie, lacking historical accuracy, check out “Tombstone.” It has some blemishes, but it’s fun with a can of coke and bag of popcorn!

    1. I’m shocked that I’ve discovered an area of American history that you are not savy with! LOL 🙂

      I wonder which one is the most accurate? I would bet My Darling Clementine, as it felt the most real. I’ve heard Tombstone is a good film, so once I’ve had some space, perhaps I’ll sit down with it and Kevin Costner’s version, and see what I think. I wonder why no-one has ever done it from Doc. Holiday’s perspective… like I said, he has the most interesting emotional journey in the film.

      1. I’m savvy with the wild west! Wyatt Earp’s legacy is mostly legend, as with all great historical figures.

        But yeah, Doc Holiday is fascinating. Val Kilmer kills it in “Tombstone.”
        Concerning Costner’s version, though never having seen it, the consensus is it’s a “Costner film.” Too long, meandering and self satisfying. Let me know if it gels with you.

      2. I’ll have to watch “Dances with Wolves” someday. I might just watch “Tombstone and be done with it. I think Victor Mature was the best Doc. Holiday IMHO 🙂

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